There’s a lot of information out there on the Internet about Manuka honey and the different ratings available; some information is good, some is okay, and some is just incorrect. Below we’ll settle the matter of Manuka Honey “ratings” for you. From now on you’ll know what “UMF”, “Active”, and “MGO” mean. After reading this article you’ll be able to purchase Manuka honey with confidence, knowing the difference between the ratings and knowing how to determine the real thing. After all, who wants to spend good money on a fake or misrepresented rating?!
Manuka Honey Ratings – what are they anyway?
Ratings on Manuka honey are supposed to tell you the honey’s antibacterial potency. Manuka honey from New Zealand has some very powerful non-peroxide anti-bacterial properties. That’s one reason why Manuka honey is able to kill off antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. It’s quite impressive really – Manuka honey has a very wide range of uses. You can read more about Manuka honey’s benefits here.
But the questions for the person looking to buy this amazing honey are: “How do I know I’m buying the real thing?”, “How do I know the rating is accurate?”, and “Why do some Manuka honey jars have ‘UMF’, some ‘Active’, and some ‘MGO’?” Let’s answer those questions..
“Active” Manuka Honey
All “Active” means is that the honey in question has some sort of peroxide activity. All honey in the world is “active” in some way or another and when tested will give a reading. This is because all honeys have some sort of “peroxide” activity. Two important facts need to be kept in mind:
- If a honey is “active”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the honey is anti-bacterial, and
- There are no laws, regulations, or governing bodies in place to control putting “Active” on jars of Manuka honey.
This means that anyone anywhere can put “Active 10+”, “Active 12+”, “Active 16+”, or even “Active 2,000+” on a jar of Manuka honey and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Imagine that! You pay good money for a jar of “Manuka honey Active 16+” and you actually just get a jar that has some Manuka honey while being mixed with other multi-floral honeys (similar to what you might find at the supermarket). There is no regulation here, so anyone can claim “Active” and put any number after it.
“MGO” Manuka Honey
What is “MGO”? MGO stands for a substance called Methylglyoxal (pronounced meth-uhl-glahy-ok-suhl). It sounds fancy, but it’s just an organic substance found in Manuka honey that has one part to play in Manuka honey’s antibacterial properties. While MGO plays an important part in Manuka honey’s antibacterial properties, it isn’t the only component that makes Manuka honey such a powerful natural antibacterial. A scientific study done in 2011 noted this interesting fact:
“Methylglyoxal [MGO] was a major bactericidal factor in manuka honey, but after neutralization of this compound manuka honey retained bactericidal activity due to several unknown factors.” [italics here are mine]
Fascinating! After the MGO part of the Manuka honey was neutralized in the lab, Manuka honey still had antibacterial properties. What does this mean? It means that MGO makes up part of of Manuka honey’s antibacterial nature, but not all of it. There are other components that make Manuka honey such a powerful antibacterial.
“Great”, you say, “then what does it mean when I see ‘MGO’ on the label of a jar of Manuka honey?” Good question. It means that the level of MGO in the jar has been measured and a number has been put on the jar. The problem here is:
- MGO is only one part of the antibacterial nature of Manuka honey (as we just learned)
So, since the MGO component of Manuka honey does not make up the full antibacterial power of Manuka honey (as we saw above), if we assume the MGO number was correct on the label, it still wouldn’t actually tell you how powerful the antibacterial make-up of the Manuka honey is.
“How then”, you ask, “am I to know what the full antibacterial rating of Manuka honey is? Is there any standard that I can go by that will give me confidence to know?” Yes, there is a way to know what the full power of the Manuka honey is and there are regulations and a governing body to guarantee its claims. This leads us to UMF..
“UMF” Manuka Honey
UMF stands for “Unique Manuka Factor.” It tells you what the full non-peroxide antibacterial rating of the Manuka honey is. Since Manuka honey’s antibacterial nature comes from many factors, the UMF rating takes them all into account (including the MGO factor) and gives you a final rating. The most common UMF ratings are UMF 5+, UMF 10+, UMF 15+, and UMF 20+. The “+” after the number just means that it could be more than the number given, but that it won’t be less. For example, a jar of UMF 15+ has a UMF factor of at least 15, but could be higher.
In 1981 a professor at Waikato University in New Zealand, Dr Peter Molan, identified that honey from some strains of the New Zealand Manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium) contain extraordinary, very stable and powerful non-peroxide antibacterial properties. They are naturally present and not found in any other variety of honey. He then coined the term “Unique Manuka Factor” to describe these properties.
The UMF rating is audited and regulated by the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA) in New Zealand. Manuka honey that carries the UMF rating is tracked from the Apiaries (the Bee Keeper’s yard) through to the packaging factory. Every jar can be traced back to the individual Apiary and to the lab that tested its batch for the UMF potency. Each jar of UMF Manuka honey will have what you see to the right; a date of manufacturing, a best before date, and a batch number (which is used for tracking as described above).
The UMF standard is a global and authoritative standard. Its supply chain is independently audited and verified. No one can use the UMF label anywhere in the world unless they adhere to the stringent UMF auditing process required to ensure the ratings and labels are accurate.
Well, there you have it, the run-down on Active, UMF, and MGO. You now have the knowledge you require to go out there and know what you’re talking about around ratings. If you have any further questions about these ratings, feel free to comment below.
Also, please have a look at our UMF Manuka honey available here.